‘The children and grandchildren of the evicted tenants are awaiting for their own parliament to restore them to their birth right’
Kinnitty Castle c1904 (or Castlebernard as it was then known).
Irish traditional music and ballads depict landlords and their agents as being rapacious and all too eager to evict tenants from their holdings. In Offaly social memory has been particularly unkind to land agents and their employees. Music and poetry kept alive in rural localities pours scorn on estate officials for their conduct towards the people during the Famine . For example, in the poem ‘The Boys of Gurteen’ agents and their ‘hirelings’ are singled out for their actions:
‘we cried down with coercion, rack rents and evictions, the bailiff, the sheriff and crowbar brigade, and the landlords must fly out of Holy Ireland, unless they work for us with the shovel and spade’.
Other King’s County poetry is even less kind, directing particular ire towards the bailiffs and drivers (those who gathered seized crops and animals) introducing matters of a personal nature. More tellingly however is the fact that the memory of the Famine was used as a pretext for acts of violence and vandalism during the Irish revolution of the twentieth-century. For example, evictions of forty-three families at Kinnitty in 1852, carried out by ‘Black’ Thomas Bernard, were recalled in December 1922 some four months after the destruction of the Bernard family home when it was burned by the Anti-Treaty IRA. The house was to be burned, according to the raiding party, because ‘the children and grandchildren of the evicted tenants are awaiting for their own parliament to restore them to their birthright’.
There was lingering resentment towards the evictions for generations. In the 1860s it was claimed that Bernard, one of the largest landowners in Offaly (15,979 acres), had ‘removed some smallholders for the enlargement of his own monster farms’, while one newspaper questioned why ‘a single individual, an elderly gentleman [Bernard] without any family should hold in his own hands thousands of acres of arable land, while so many industrious people have to live by the cultivation of the soil and are unable to get a few acres to till’.